When my dog, Utah, unexpectedly passed away in May 2017, I literally felt like a piece of me had disappeared. Vanished. It was a kind of pain I’d never endured before. The kind of pain I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. In an effort to cope, I created a video tribute in his honor (click here to watch it). For 6 months, this video served as a way for me to release the feelings of grief that would consume me on a regular basis. It allowed me to surrender to the pain, crying until I was depleted of tears. And although this helped me survive those tough times, I kept feeling the need to do something more. Something that would fill that void for the rest of my life. That something turned out to be a tattoo. But, not just any tattoo. Not just a beautiful portrait of his handsome face on my back. This tattoo would literally make Utah a part of my life again…a part of me. That specific part of me that I lost when he left. This tattoo would have his ashes in it so that he would be a part of me forever.
When I discovered that I can put my dog’s ashes in a tattoo, my eyes lit up as if I was given the chance to be with my sweet Utah again. I immediately knew this was something I HAD to do. So I paid a visit to my friend, Sam, over at American Tattoo in Vista, CA. He explained the surprisingly simple, yet amazing, process… You bring in the ashes of your beloved pet, the tattoo artist mixes them into the ink, and then they tattoo you as they normally would. That’s it! The one interesting fact, though, is that the ashes are put into the black ink only. And this is simply because ashes turn black when they get wet. Makes sense.
It had been about 17 years since I had gotten a tattoo, so I didn’t have a clear recollection of how painful it is. But I figured it couldn’t be as painful as the sorrow I had been feeling for the last 6 months. With the outline of the tattoo on my back, the ashes in the ink ready to go, I sat on the bench, hands clasped in anticipation of the first poke. “Here we go,” Sam said. Deep breath. OUCH!! My eyes immediately bulged out of my face, my knuckles white, my breath stalled…”how long is this going to take?!” I thought. I began doubting myself. I wasn’t sure I could endure that kind of intense pain for hours. But I didn’t have a choice. I was committed. I HAD to do this…for me and for Utah.
Looking for a distraction, I turned to Utah’s tribute video. Being the most powerful video I’ve ever seen, I knew it would help take my mind off the burning torture that was taking place on my back. With my phone in my hands, clasped so tight it felt like I could break it in half, I pushed play. The second his song began to play and I saw his face smiling at me, I began to feel relief. I sang along in my head, narrowing my vision in on every detail. His squinting eyes, his piglet nose, his adorable little freckles, his infectious smile…I was happy. For the first time, I felt happy while watching that video. I felt like he was back in my life. For the first time, I didn’t cry while watching that video. For the first time, the pain of that needle in my back was bearable. He was being put back into my soul, and I could feel it.
As the tattoo progressed, I fell more and more in love with it. He was coming to life! My excitement grew to impatience as I couldn’t wait to see the final result. After a long 3 hours, it was over. Not just the tattoo, but the grief I had been feeling from that part of me that was missing. That part of me was gone. It had been filled. Utah was now as much a part of me as he ever was. And I cherished the fact that he would remain that way forever. It’s as if the pain I endured while getting the tattoo was the grand finale, the finish line of my journey along the path of grief. Now that he’s a part of me, I don’t feel that he’s gone. He’s with me, always and forever, and I’m eternally grateful for that.
If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo, whether it includes your dog’s ashes or not, stop by and see my friend, Sam, over at American Tattoo in Vista, CA. He’ll take great care of you 🙂